SA?s participation in the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s revolution against French rule.

“They (Dlamini-Zuma and Gumbi) even consulted with a revolutionary group regarded by some human rights and civil society organisations as a militia engaged in an armed struggle,” Chikane said.

An understanding had been reached with the groups that SA’s participation was purely out of respect for the achievements of Haitian slaves 200 years ago, and because political wrangling had prevented the celebration of the centenary 100 years ago.

Acting Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the fact that Haitian opposition groups had agreed to meet Mbeki during his visit showed that they did not believe there was an intention to side with Aristide.

On claims that Mbeki was mediating in Haiti’s political conflict, Sisulu said Mbeki was cognisant of a number of organisations, countries and institutions in the Caribbean which were involved in peace initiatives and were trying to assist in finding a solution to the problems in Haiti.

“Accordingly, the president has no intention of mediating in Haiti. However, he has indicated that SA stands ready should we be requested to lend some help,” Sisulu said. She urged South Africans to support Mbeki in his endeavours, instead of “carping and criticising”.

Sisulu also denied reports of an attack on the president, his motorcade or a South African helicopter carrying an advance team to assess the situation in the city of Gonaives.

At the same news conference, police spokesman Sen Supt Selby Bokaba retracted a weekend statement by the SA Police Service that the helicopter had come under fire.

He said that while the advance team was in Gonaives, three shots were fired in its vicinity and “in the ensuing pandemonium” further sporadic shots were fired.

“The advance team managed to move to a safe location where they summoned a helicopter that evacuated them.”

Labelling the news conference a “silly egg dance” aimed at putting a brave face on the debacle that the Haitian visit had become, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) questioned the SAPS’s retraction of its own statement. “One has to ask who among the police put out such an alarmist initial report, or whether the truth is that a senior police officer has been told by the government to change the official version of events,” said DA communications director James Lorimer.